- Their Last Full Measure: The Final Days of the Civil War by Joseph Wheelan, and: Spring 1865: The Closing Campaigns of the Civil War by Perry D. Jamieson
These two books concern the final months of the Civil War and the impact of the final battles on the Union and the Confederate governments and the people they governed. The last days of the Confederacy and the closing days of the war have a rich historiography that includes the works of Douglas Southall Freeman, Bruce Catton, Shelby Foote, Joseph T. Glatthaar, and William C. Davis, among many others. Thus the end of the war is a tired topic for all but the most avid Civil War buffs and scholars. And yet Joseph Wheelan and Perry D. Jamieson have seized the opportunity of the Civil War sesquicentennial to breathe new life into well-known foes and remind readers that Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant, Jefferson Davis, and Robert E. Lee were flesh and blood and fallible. Each had choices that could have changed what we have come to know as historic events. Wheelan and Jamieson have made these famous men more relatable, giving twenty-first-century Americans an opportunity to feel more connected to them. The authors build on previous works by incorporating new perspectives from the diaries and letters of soldiers and civilians as well as the official correspondence of military and political leaders.
Both authors cover the last month of 1864 and the first five months of 1865 but each with a different focus and style. With a journalist’s eye, Wheelan provides a broad perspective on the war that swings between battle-front and home front, suggesting the influence of one on the other. He writes with compelling dramatic flair and draws the reader in with rich descriptions [End Page 688] and contemporary accounts. As a military historian, Jamieson strikes a more scholarly tone by juxtaposing the actions of Grant and Lee in Virginia with that of William T. Sherman and Joseph E. Johnston in the Carolinas. Jamieson concentrates on field operations, deftly describing the actions of each army while also giving readers an intimate view from the perspective of senior officers and their subordinates. Both are worthy studies, but Wheelan’s book might be better suited for the novice interested in politics and society, while Jamieson provides a succinct narrative of the last battles that students of military history will find hard to beat.
Wheelan’s Their Last Full Measure: The Final Days of the Civil War is a narration of the final six months of the Civil War that provides lively descriptions and first-person anecdotes, making for an informative and pleasurable read. In the style of Catton and Foote, Wheelan takes the reader on a fast-paced ride to the end of the conflict. Each chapter covers one month, beginning with the Union attack on Fort Fisher outside Wilmington, North Carolina. The chapters build on the importance of Fort Fisher’s fall, which Wheelan sees as the beginning of the end for the Confederacy. To craft his story he relies on special collections at the University of North Carolina’s Wilson Library for primary source material that includes published journals, letters, and unit histories. His analysis is subtle, and his vivid writing is more descriptive than argumentative. Readers witness the effects of the Union blockade on civilians in Richmond in early 1865, with its “dilapidated homes and businesses, citizens in threadbare clothing, mud everywhere, even in the corridors of hotels, whose carpets had long ago been ripped out and sent to the military stores to be cut up for blankets” (p. 18). We travel through the Carolinas as “[f]ires and dense smoke marked...